By Alan OwYong and Yong Ding Li.
Dave Bakewell and Peter Kennerley first alerted us to a distinct looking Charadrius plover in their 2008 paper titled “Malaysia’s Mystery Plover” after studying them at Tuas, Singapore in winter of 1993-1994 and in Penang in 2006-2007. This led to a comprehensive study of the plover in question, in collaboration with Philip Round in 2008. They then coined the name “White-faced Plover” for its predominately white looking face.
Following the publication of the article, birders in China started searching for them along the coast. In 2011, a China-based birder Brian Ivon Jones stumbled a breeding population on China’s southern coast. 270 birds were counted at two sandy beaches at Dahu, Haifeng in Guangdong Province.
Further research found that renown British ornithologist Robert Swinhoe had described the form in 1870 based on a specimen collected from Taiwan and had it named Aegialites dealbatus. This was treated as a subspecies of the Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus.
So it was more of a rediscovery and the bonus was that it was accepted by the IOC as a new species following the name given by Bakewell and Kennerley, White-faced Plover, Charadrius dealbatus after the split. Numerous studies have been conducted by researchers thereafter to better understand is taxonomic relationship with other similar plovers.
On the 31 January 2021, all three Charadrius plovers were present at the seawall along Marina East Drive. There were a few pairs of Malaysian Plovers, several Kentish and at least one male White-faced Plover moulting into breeding plumage.
Both the Kentish and White-faced Plovers were seen mixing together and came close to each other for these photos. With these we are able to compare them better side by side.
At first glance, both plovers look similiar. But the first thing you will notice are the lores or rather the absence of the black loral patch for the White-faced. The patch behind the eyes are also visibly darker for the Kentish. Another useful feature for birders to take note of is the black breast typical of the Malaysian and Kentish Plovers, this feature is less pronounced in the White-faced. The black band across the crown is further back on the White-faced Plover, giving it the appearance of a much whiter forehead and an overall paler face. Lastly the Kentish Plover has a darker brown upperparts compared to the lighter, ‘milky tea’ color for the White-faced.
This side profile photo shows that the two plover species are of about the same size with a slightly rounder body for the Kentish. The flanks of the Kentish has more white than the White-faced. The legs of the Kentish do look darker but the length is hard to judge. The most contrasting feature is the shape of the head. The White-faced has a steeper forehead compared to the sloping forehead of the Kentish Plover, giving it a more “dome-shaped” look.
This White-faced Plover has been accepted into the International Ornithological Congress’s checklist after the split, and has now been added into the 2021 Nature Society (Singapore)’s Birds of Singapore Checklist.
Bakewell, D.N. & Kennerley, P.R. (2007). Malaysia’s Mystery Plovers. Available at http://www.surfbirds.com/Features/plovers1108/malayplovers.html
Kennerley, P.R., Bakewell, D.N., & Round, P.D. (2008). Rediscovery of a long-lost Charadrius plover from South-East Asia. Forktail, 24, 63-79.
Swinhoe’s ( White-faced Plovers)-Birdingbeijing.com
Sadanandan, K. R., Küpper, C., Low, G. W., Yao, C. T., Li, Y., Xu, T., … & Wu, S. (2019). Population divergence and gene flow in two East Asian shorebirds on the verge of speciation. Scientific reports, 9(1), 1-9.
Lim, K. S. (2009). The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). Singapore.